“I thought I told you/I’m from Yorkshire.”
As if by way of a wider explanation for who he is and what he was, back in 2012 Michael Chapman uttered these words on his song ‘Heat Index’. Taken from his album Natch 7, a collaboration the brilliant guitarist, singer-songwriter and cult hero had made with the Woodpiles (Steve Gunn, Marc Orleans, Jimy SeiTang, and Nathan Bowles), it is performed this evening by Chapman’s fellow Yorkshireman and cosmic visionary, Bobby Lee.
The song is taken from the recently released album, Imaginational Anthem vol. XII : I Thought I Told You – A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman, who sadly passed away in September 2021 at the age of 80. It is a compilation album curated by the progressive/psych-folk guitarist and songwriter, Henry Parker. Having been approached about such a project last year by the esteemed San Franciscan independent record label Tompkins Square, Parker “decided to make this compilation decidedly Yorkshire focused, bringing together seven other artists from the county who have drawn influence from the profound music of this man.”
And tonight’s concert is the launch party for this album at which seven of the eight artists who appear on the record will perform their individual interpretations of those Michael Chapman songs in public. It is made even more special that the occasion is being celebrated in York. Not only did Chapman play this very venue in March 2019, but his last ever live appearance took place across the city in the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall a mere 10 months before he died. That concert was a live streamed affair recorded in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown and one of tonight’s guests, Katie Spencer, a good friend of Michael Chapman, was the support act at that event as well as undertaking a Q&A session with the great man.
It therefore seems entirely fitting that Katie Spencer closes this show tonight. She plays two of his songs here. The first is ‘You Say’, added even greater poignancy with its opening lines of “and so I’m saying goodbye, although God knows I don’t want to.” And the second, ‘Shuffleboat River Farewell’ has huge personal significance for Spencer as not only was it written about her home city of Hull but she also recorded the song for Michael Chapman for the occasion of his 80th birthday.
All of the artists who appear here tonight have had a past connection with Michael Chapman either through performing with him, promoting previous shows of his, or having covered his material in the past. In the course of interpreting his songs for the A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman, most stay true to the original versions though one or two – Dean McPhee’s reinvention of ‘Caddo Lake’ in particular – have a fresh spin placed upon them. But all are played with love and out of the deepest admiration and respect for the man who had written them.
Three hours before Katie Spencer brought this concert to a suitably heartfelt close, the man who had brought it all together in the first place, Henry Parker, began with his reading of ‘In The Valley’ from Michael Chapman’s 1970 album, Window (the fourth of more than 50 albums he would release during his lifetime). Here, Parker captures quite wonderfully much of Chapman’s fretboard fluidity and dexterity. He also sets the template for the evening whereby each artist is given a 15-minute slot during which they play the Michael Chapman song they have each recorded for A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman plus either one or two of their own compositions and/or another of Chapman’s tunes.
Andrew DR Abbott follows with his eight-string baritone acoustic guitar and his expressive long-form instrumental does great justice to Michael Chapman’s ‘Trains’, here recreated as ‘(Some) Trains’. It is then the turn of Chris Brain who follows a couple of his own songs with a delightful take on Chapman’s ‘Among The Trees’.
Taking us to the interval is Holly Blackshaw who is the first musician tonight to strap on an electric guitar. At one of her very first gigs some ten or eleven years ago, she had opened for Michael Chapman in Cottingham in East Yorkshire. For the tribute record she chose ‘March Rain’ from another of his 1970 albums, Fully Qualified Survivor and the combination of her expressive voice and spectral guitar add an otherworldly quality to the song.
The second half of this concert opens with Michael Chapman’s partner of more than 50 years, Andru taking to the Crescent stage to express her warmest gratitude to everyone involved in producing both the album and the concert. It is a hugely touching moment. Bobby Lee and his band follow and add a subtle lysergic edge to first ‘Rainmaker’ and then the aforementioned ‘Heat Index’. As Lee rightly points out, Chapman’s music was always interesting and it never once succumbed to what he accurately describes as “Clapton-esque bullshit.”
That then leaves Dean McPhee and his innovative reinvention of ‘Caddo Lake’ – coincidentally a song that Michel Chapman had performed on this very stage when he appeared here in 2019 – and Katie Spencer to bring to a moving close a highly emotionally charged, most gracious, and extremely thankful tribute to one of the true greats of contemporary music.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman at The Crescent, York.